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12.11.2015

World Wide Women:
Sarah In Hokkaido

The second feature in the World Wide Women series is Sarah, a South African living in Japan. She teaches at a private Catholic school in Hokkaido and has been married to The Scientist for 2 years. She documents her voracious reading habits and daily adventures in Japan and beyond on her Instagram @sarahsnomadland and Tumblr @thenomadsland.

 Ni Hao Sarah, you were born and raised in South Africa. What was growing up there like?

I've been out of South Africa for so long that all my memories are rose-tinted and nostalgic - it's funny how when you're away from home, you forget all the not-so-good stuff. I loved growing up in Johannesburg - of course, I was a white kid living through the end of apartheid, so my experiences were very different from other children of different races.

SA is a dramatic, resilient, passionate, hazardous place, and people of my generation are a very specific breed. We grew up in political upheaval in a country becoming democratic and we were all moulded by that. We're opinionated and loudmouthed. My childhood was filled with trips to Cape Town to surf over Christmas, winter visits to The Kruger Park (my favourite place on the planet), lazy Sundays having a braai (BBQ) by the pool, and attending political rallies with my parents.

I wouldn't have wanted to grow up in any other place and am fiercely protective over SA - especially in defending her against stereotypes. When my husband first came to Jo'burg, he was absolutely petrified. The Japanese travel sites all had horrible stories of things being stolen at gunpoint, and yes, Jozi has that awful criminal side to it, but that's not all it is. Living out of SA and hearing all the ridiculous opinions people have of Africa in general has made me realise just how damaging stereotypes are.

What brought you from South Africa to Japan?

I came for a year (famous last words) on the JET Program- an exchange and teaching program run by the Japanese government. I highly recommend it if you're thinking of moving to Japan. The one thing JET has against it is that you can't choose where you're placed and I am so lucky to have been put in Sapporo. I don't know how long I would have lasted in a farming village.

What has surprised you most about living in Japan?

Oh man, everything! Japan has such a distinct culture which is part of its allure - if you're looking for an adventure in a place different from home, Japan has it all. But that also means that everything is surprising.

Firstly, Japan is so unbelievably low-tech. I know people think it's all ROBOTS! LASERS! BIONIC EYES! but in reality, it's a place that still relies on fax machines and blackboards, and a place where ATMs shut down at 4 pm (why? so the man inside the ATM can go home…?). The overt sexism everywhere is really surprising too - gender issues exist everywhere, but I'm used to living in a place where people speak out about discrimination which doesn't happen much in Japan.

A really wonderful surprise was how the seasons are celebrated here. I know it's a bit of a generic answer, but I love it so much I just had to mention it. In SA we have hot weather and cold weather, but here there are all these micro-seasons and people celebrate them in lovely ways.

What is your favorite season in Hokkaido?

It's a toss up between Autumn and Winter. Winter would win if not for the icy roads that bruise my butt at every fall. Summer is awful- not as bad as Tokyo, but Johannesburg has such a cool summer with very low humidity and my body can't handle the heat in Japan.

Where would I likely find you on a weekend?

We don't eat out during the week, but the gloves come off at the weekend. You will find us where the food is. We usually eat Soup Curry , which sounds weird but is delicious. I wrote a short blog post about my favourite restaurants a year ago.

We live in a lovely neighborhood, so on the weekends we like ambling around the city until we find a new cafe. My current favorites are Sato Coffee and a lovely little frog-themed cafe. There are lots of seasonal festivals too - this weekend we're going to the Munich Christmas market in Odori Park.

We go on lots of weekend road trips - Hokkaido is best by car. In the summer we'll go to Furano to see the flowers, in Winter to Otaru to walk along the canal and see the lantern festival and in Spring, to Hakodate to see the cherry blossoms at the old Goryokaku star-shaped fort.

Can you teach us your favourite Japanese phrase?

Buzzfeed wrote an article about Japanese words we all need in our lives, and most of my favourite expressions were on there! I love irusu which means `pretending to be out when someone knocks on the door`.


Arigato gozaimasu Sarah! Your photos make Hokkaido look like such a magical place.


If you know someone who could be featured in this series, you can email me at tricia [at] nihaonewyork [dot] net.

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